Archive for September, 2021

Accidentally Vegan

September 24, 2021

I am not here to tell anyone how to eat. That has never been my agenda in my 35 years of being a vegetarian. It doesn’t bother me if you order a hamburger when we have lunch together, I am fine if you cook a steak for my kids as long as its not in my kitchen. I have never (I hope) chastised anyone for eating the way they do although many have chastised me for eating the way I do. (Some people, not anyone I know well, had a field day with the fact that my kids were vegetarian for the first half of their lives. “What about protein?” Please. Have you seen them?) I eat the way I eat, you eat the way you eat. If you are curious about a more plant based diet and want some recipe ideas, this is a good place to be. As always, welcome!

I have noticed in the past 5-10 years that there is a big uptick in the number of vegan cookbooks and products available. Even in just the awareness of veganism. I realize I live in the Bay Area so I am probably seeing more of it than other parts of the country/world. But even if you check out the cookbook section of you local bookstore, chances are you will see quite a few vegan cookbooks, maybe even more than the vegetarian ones. The sales of impossible burgers and faux meat products are through the roof. I’m glad to see eating plant based coming out from the fringes into the mainstream but I do wish the emphasis was more on eating whole foods rather than highly processed meat substitutes.

It might be worth it here to clarify the difference between vegetarian and vegan. A vegetarian, which is what I am, does not eat animals or parts of animals. Yes, this includes fish. If you eat fish you are a pescatarian. (I can’t type that without remembering the guy on Silicon Valley who said he was as pesca-pescatarian, someone who only eats fish that eat other fish. Love it.) I like to say I don’t eat anything with a face but then have to include the caveat that I don’t eat mollusks either. I will eat things that come from animals like eggs, dairy, and honey. I will not eat gelatin which comes from cow hooves because the animal has to be dead to get that. And that means that I’ve made the Smitten Kitchen Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats probably 100 times and I’ve never tasted them. (Vegan marshmallows do exist but in my experience they don’t melt well enough to make those treats.)

If you are used to just eating any old thing, a vegan diet can seem restrictive. When I was having this very conversation with my children a couple of nights ago, they told me eating vegan sounded boring. Imagine their surprise when I told them our dinners are vegan easily twice a week. In fact some of their favorite things I make are vegan. An amazing curry from Diana Henry’s Plenty, any of the red lentil dhal variations I make, fava bean pesto pasta from Six Seasons (the pesto itself is vegan, Parmesan can be added later if wanted), Thai yellow curry from Everyday Greens. They love all of these dishes and do you know why? Because they are fabulous. Incredibly flavorful, terrific mixes of vegetables and pulses and grains and spices. Most importantly, they are not trying to be something they are not. They are not assaulting your taste buds with 40 spices and too much salt and tons of ingredients so you don’t “miss the meat”. They pull their inspiration from the wonderful world of plants that, when treated right, can be incredibly tasty and satisfying. I sometimes call these superstar dishes “accidentally vegan” in that they are vegan just because they are. They pull from cuisines that don’t rely so heavily on meat.

I’m choosing to share this recipe in this somewhat preachy sounding post (I am trying very hard not to sound preachy) because it is approachable and has been one of my very favorite things to eat since I got this amazing book from Anna Jones. (Side note – if you are looking for more plant based goodness in your diet, seriously check out her books. I have all of them and they are all terrific but A Modern Way to Eat is my favorite.) Sometimes you just want dinner to taste good, like really good, without having to spend a lot of time and effort. Aside from a bit of chopping, this dish basically cooks itself. It scales up easily, reacts well to all sorts of substitutions and additions, tastes great the next day, and will satisfy most palates. And oh yeah, it’s vegan. (OK, the garnish isn’t but you can use a plant based yogurt if you are vegan.)

Chickpea and Preserved Lemon Stew
Adapted from A Modern Way to Eat
Serves 4

Preserved lemons are easier to find than ever and their flavor is incredibly welcome in this stew. That said, if you can’t find them, grate in the zest of a lemon instead. The additions I make to the recipe are a sweet potato and olives, you can leave the former out, but I think the latter are necessary to balance the sweetness of this dish. You can make this soupier by adding more liquid and stewier by adding more Israeli couscous. Finally, I actually prefer to use fregola sarda instead of Israeli couscous. It is craggier making for a more interesting texture. Rustichella brand has a great one which you can usually find in the pasta section.

Olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 stick of cinnamon
1 preserved lemon, halved, seeds removed
Small handful of raisins
12 Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup Israeli couscous or fregola sarda
Handful of parsley leaves, chopped

To Serve:
Good pinch of saffron strands
4 tbsp. whole milk plain yogurt (dairy or plant-based)
1/2 clove garlic, peeled and minced
4 handfuls arugula

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, and sweet potato along with a good pinch of salt. Cook until the onions start to release their liquid, then add the garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.

Add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Fill both cans with water and add to the pan too. Add the bouillon cube, cinnamon stick, preserved lemon halves, raisins, and olives. Season with salt and pepper and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the tomato broth has thickened slightly and tastes wonderfully fragrant.

Add the couscous and cook for another 10 minutes, making sure you add a little extra water here if necessary. If you want it soupier, add another can or so of water.

Meanwhile, put the saffron in a bowl with a small splash of boiling water and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Then add the yogurt, garlic, and a pinch of salt and mix well.

After 10 minutes the couscous should be cooked while still keeping a little chewy bite. Taste to make sure and continue cooking if necessary. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed, stir in the parsley, and then scoop out the preserved lemon halves. Ladle the stew into bowls. Top with a good spoonful of saffron yogurt and a crown of arugula.



Chocolate No-Churn Chip Ice Cream

September 21, 2021

I’ve been sitting on this post for days now. Since I went so many years not writing, I have a backlog of recipes I’m dying to share here. Like the best of the best. And this ice cream is something you will probably want to make right now. The problem for me is that I’m really rusty at this writing thing and it’s taken me a while to just say, you know what?, let’s just talk about how good this is and how easy it is instead of telling you about the time when I was four and took a big lick of a chocolate ice cream cone and nudged the scoop directly onto the floor. (True story.) There are many jokes about how no one wants to read personal stories about food – JUST GET TO THE RECIPE ALREADY. I get it. But I’m not here to make money, I’m just here to share some of my favorite foods and get down some stories along the way. Sometimes though, it’s best just to talk about the food.

Have you made ice cream? Have you wanted to make ice cream? I can tell you, homemade ice cream will impress just about everyone. I could make you a ten course dinner and when you found out I made the ice cream, you will think I’m a rockstar. (This is also somewhat true of homemade salad dressing and homemade bread.) If you have been scared off by the idea that you have to purchase a piece of equipment, let me tell you, you don’t need an ice cream maker to make stellar ice cream.

Now allow me to digress from this point for a moment and tell you I am a big fan of my ice cream maker. I’ve had it for over ten years, it only costs about $70 (Cuisinart is the brand I have), and it consistently makes terrific ice cream. If you are using an ice cream maker, chances are you are making a custard based ice cream, meaning it contains egg yolks. Making custard based ice cream is not hard but it is a little fussy. You will also need to keep the bowl of the maker in your freezer at all times so you are ready to make ice cream whenever you want. The bowl takes a full 24 hours to get cold enough to freeze the custard so it’s best to keep it frozen always. This might be when your eyes glaze over and say making ice cream is too hard.

But it’s not! And you don’t have to make a custard or keep a large bowl in your freezer at all times! You can make no-churn ice cream for which you only need a few bowls and some kind of mixer to whip cream (or a person with a really strong arm.) Honestly, the hardest thing about making this recipe is that you have to wait about six hours before you can eat it. My favorite ice cream flavor ever is chocolate chocolate chip and this version is incredible. If you need more of a nudge than that, know that I make A LOT of treats and this is the absolute house favorite of the dudes living in my house. I could have a birthday cake sitting on the counter and a cookie jar full of their favorite cookies, and they will want this ice cream. Convinced?

Chocolate No-Churn Ice Cream
The Vanilla Bean Baking Book
Makes a lot

If you don’t have Sarah Keiffer’s book, I would highly recommend it to you, especially if you like to bake. There are several ice cream recipes in it, all no-churn, but there are many many other treasures. If you are interested in exploring making ice cream in general, the book to get is David Lebowitz’s The Perfect Scoop.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
One 14-ounce sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups heavy cream
Chocolate sprinkles (optional and not in the original recipe)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of boiling water, being careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl, and stir constantly until just melted. Remove from the heat and pour 5 ounces (a little more than half) of the chocolate onto the prepared pan. Freeze until firm, 10 to 15 minutes. Let the other 3 ounces of chocolate cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk the sweetened condensed milk, the remaining 3 ounces of cooled chocolate, vanilla, and salt until completely combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the cream cheese on medium until smooth. (DT: I am quite sure you could do this whisking with a hand mixer.) Turn the mixer to low and add the heavy cream in a slow steady stream, mixing until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add half the whipped cream mixture to the sweetened condensed milk mixture and whisk until completely combined. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining whipped cream mixture until no streaks remain.

Remove the chocolate from the freezer and chop into bite-size pieces. The chocolate will begin to melt as you touch it, so work quickly. Add the chopped chocolate to the ice cream and mix to combine. Pour into a 9-inch loaf pan or Pullman pan with a lid. Top with chocolate sprinkles if desired. Freeze until firm, 6 hours or, covered, up to 1 week.



Tofu Talk

September 9, 2021

 

Yes it’s me, your long lost vegetarian food blogger.  A year after I told you I was coming back to this space, I’m really back.  For real.  I had every intention of making this a more regular thing but I got stopped by technology.  I started this blog way back in May of 2008.  About a year after I started, I worked with a designer to move me over to WordPress and redesign the site.  And that’s the last time anything was updated.  I don’t really care that the site looks dated, but using a very old version of WordPress left me banging my head against a wall.  Because I am intimidated by the tech aspect of the blog, I just put it off.  I’ve had this post ready to go for months but couldn’t go anywhere with it.  I finally reached out to my friend network and someone suggested I post the job on Fiverr.  A few days and a little bit of money later, I’m back!

Now before I get to the tofu, I have to simultaneously apologize to and profusely thank those of you who left me such lovely comments on this post.  I was operating under the impression that no one really reads this blog anymore so I hadn’t bothered to check the comments.  In fact, that is not the case.  I am humbled by your welcomes back to this space and by your sharing your own difficult experiences with mental illness.  I have always been so grateful by the support of friends and strangers when I talk about the tough stuff here.  Thank you all so much for reading and supporting.  There is nothing more motivating than having wonderful readers.

Onward.  I’ve noticed that every time I post something about tofu on Instagram, I get questions.  Tofu, it seems, is not only a polarizing ingredient but also a perplexing one.  I’ve been cooking with it for well over 25 years and while I’m not an expert, I do have some Thoughts and Opinions, as well as a favorite way to prepare it.  I just read over my old tofu posts (some great recipes there!) and I have addressed most of these points in previous posts, but here are all my thoughts in one convenient place:

Tofu is not a meat substitute.  If you are looking to reduce your meat intake but also are looking for something to replace your steak or roast chicken, tofu is not your guy.  Tofu, while it can be delicious if treated the right way and nutritious, is not going to satisfy you if you want animal protein.  Treat tofu as its own unique thing and you will be more likely to accept and like it.

Always, always extra firm.  If you have gone looking for our soy friend and been overwhelmed by the choices, I can totally understand.  Silken, soft, medium, firm, extra firm, super firm, water packed, vacuum packed – did I miss any?  I occasionally buy silken tofu (the type that is shelf-stable and found on the Asian foods aisle) for using in miso soup or blending into desserts, but otherwise I always go extra-firm or super firm.  If possible, I also try to get the type that is shrink wrapped and NOT packed in water.  One of the keys to getting flavor into tofu is to remove excess water (more on that in a minute), so you have to work harder at this task if the whole block is sitting in water.  Wildwood makes a good one they label as super firm and if you are in the Bay Area, Hodo Tofu is made right here in Oakland and has a great texture.  Trader Joe’s also has a good one.

Get rid of excess water but don’t make yourself crazy. Many tofu recipes will tell you to “press” the tofu.  This involves laying it on a towel, placing a baking sheet over it, and then placing heavy cans on top for 20-30 minutes.  The idea is that you are pressing out the excess water which will allow the tofu to absorb more flavor and have better texture.  I agree with the end goals but in my experience, this is a time-consuming and unnecessary step.  If your tofu is too soft, it will sploosh apart under the weight and if it is extra-firm, it will just sit there and not really give off any water.  Your best bet is to lay the whole block on a clean kitchen towel and aggressively blot the outer edges dry.  You can even give it a bit of a squeeze.  Then, slice the tofu into planks and dry each of those, both sides, with the same towel.  Then you are good to go!

Flavor, flavor, flavor.  One of the biggest complaints I hear about tofu is that it doesn’t taste like anything.  (The other one is that it is mushy, which you can solve by buying extra firm.)  That complaint is pretty much true – tofu on its own doesn’t have much flavor.  But, if I remember correctly, neither do chicken breasts.  You do things to chicken to make it taste better, like season and/or marinate it, and so you should do the same with tofu.  If you are simply stir frying it and adding it to another dish, be sure to season it well with salt and pepper before sautéing and even give it another sprinkle of salt after it is done.  But to get even better flavor (and texture) consider marinating and baking the tofu.  I think Asian profile flavors taste best so I lean toward ingredients like soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and chile paste.  But you could certainly explore other options.

High heat is your friend.  To get great texture, you need to work with relative high heat and give it a bit of your attention.  If I am adding tofu to a stir fry or fried rice, I will stick with the season and then pan fry method I describe below.  Frying it will tighten it up a bit and give you a bit of a crust.  Do not expect fried chicken level of crunch but the texture is nice.   If the tofu is more of the star of the show, I marinate it for at least an hour, even longer if possible.  Then I bake it in the marinade in a 400 degree oven until the marinade has been absorbed.  Below you will find specifics on how to cook/bake the tofu.  I’m giving you a yield of 16-20 ounces because the Wildwood and Trader Joe’s super firm comes in a 16-ounce pack.  If you can find Hodo brand, it (annoyingly) comes in 10-ounce packs, so I buy two.

Pan-Fried Tofu
16-20 ounces of tofu

You will notice that I have you sautéing the tofu in slabs first, then cutting into cubes once they are golden brown.  There are few tasks I find more mind-numbing than turning individual cubes of tofu over four times but if that sounds like fun to you, cut each slab into cubes before frying.  Just don’t forget to season with salt and pepper.

Remove the plastic packaging from the tofu and using a clean kitchen towel (or paper towels), blot the brick(s) dry.  Cut the brick(s) into approximately 1-inch thick slabs and blot each slab dry on both sides.  You can give them a gentle squeeze too.  Lay out on a plate and sprinkle both sides with a generous pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

Place a large non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat.  Drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of a flavorless oil (canola or grapeseed are my choices) and carefully lay the slabs of tofu in the pan.  They will tend to splatter a bit so watch your hands.  Allow the slabs to cook until they are a uniform golden brown, then carefully flip them over using tongs or a spatula.  Allow the second side to get golden brown.  If you are able to stand the slabs up on their ends without them falling over, allow those to get golden brown too.  If that doesn’t work for you, don’t worry about it.  Once you have golden brown tofu, remove the slabs to a paper towel lined plate.  If you were not able to cook all the tofu in one batch, repeat these instructions with the rest of the tofu.  Sprinkle all the slabs with another pinch of kosher salt.

Once the slabs are cool enough to handle, cut them each into the desired sized cubes.

Oven-Baked Tofu
16-20 ounces of tofu

1 package Wildwood Super Firm Tofu or two packages Hodo Extra Firm Tofu
3 tbsp. soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. honey or brown sugar
1 tbsp. dark sesame oil
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. salem olek or other chili paste (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the middle position.  Remove the plastic packaging from the tofu and using a clean kitchen towel (or paper towels), blot the brick(s) dry.  Cut the brick(s) into approximately 1-inch thick slabs and blot each slab dry on both sides.  You can give them a gentle squeeze too.  Cut the slabs of tofu into approximately one-inch cubes.

In a large baking dish, whisk together all the marinade ingredients.  Taste and make sure the balance is right.  You want a nice salty/sweet/sour flavor but adjust until it tastes right to you.  Tumble the tofu cubes into the dish and stir to combine well.  Allow the tofu to sit out, stirring occasionally, for ideally 30-60 minutes.  The flavor gets better the longer it sits so you can also prepare this early in the day.  If it is going to sit out longer than an hour, cover the dish and place in the refrigerator.  Stir occasionally.

Place the uncovered dish in the oven and bake, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the marinade is completely absorbed and the tofu is getting crispy, about 35-40 minutes.